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Natural Awakenings Tucson

Watershed Management Group Goes Hydro-Regional

Apr 01, 2016 05:49PM ● By Karilyn Roach

Staff and interns at WMG’s Living Lab enjoy the first taste of rainwater on tap in 2015

There’s a hip, new environmental buzzword on the scene: hydro-regionalism—and Watershed Management Group (WMG) is leading the way. This local nonprofit organization works to engage people in water harvesting projects and policy initiatives that foster healthy watersheds and communities.

Hydro-regionalism was recently coined by WMG to convey the principle of “meeting a region’s water needs with renewable supplies from the local watershed”. In practice, this means only using water from your own backyard, rather than depleting water resources somewhere else.

Currently, most of Tucson’s municipal water is imported from the distant Colorado River, more than 300 miles away. The remaining supply comes from locally-pumped groundwater. Both of these sources are problematic. Importing water is energy-intensive and costly to deliver, while over-pumping groundwater has historically depleted our aquifers, drying up our creeks and rivers.

While hydro-regionalism may seem unattainable in the Sonoran Desert, think about this: more rain falls in Tucson in a year than the city uses from the tap. Tucson already leads the nation in water harvesting, green infrastructure, water conservation and native landscaping. Shifting to a sustainable, hydro-regional water system is entirely possible for the Old Pueblo—but to achieve this, we need strong conservation programs and greater use of renewable water supplies.

Renewable Supplies for Tucson 

Rainwater and stormwater are our most abundant renewable water sources. If properly harvested, this free resource could significantly reduce our demand for pumped or imported water. Groundwater can also be a fully renewable water supply; if pumping is limited to the amount of water that naturally recharges through the soil, the levels of this finite resource will remain stable and help restore flow in our dry waterways. Recycled water sources are also critical for a balanced water budget. Greywater and reclaimed water, for example, can be used for irrigation and food production, reducing the strain on city supplies.

Modeling Hydro-Regionalism at the Living Lab

At WMG’s Living Lab and Learning Center in central Tucson, this bold idea is already in place—with inspiring results. This facility, home to WMG’s staff offices and a busy schedule of public trainings and events, meets 100 percent of its water needs with renewable supplies: rainwater, greywater and stormwater. By harvesting and recycling these free resources, WMG has declared its water independence and kicked the habit of tapping the distant Colorado River and draining our aquifers.

Before turning off the city taps, WMG staff prepared a water budget for the Living Lab. This hard data proves that renewable water can supply all the facility’s needs, both inside and out—including a lush food forest with fruit trees and vegetables, drinking water for staff and visitors, and even rainwater showers.

Going Hydro-Regional, One Sub-Watershed at a Time

WMG has set an audacious vision to restore flow to Tucson’s springs, creeks and rivers—and hydro-regionalism is at the core of this bold plan. With its Living Lab as a working model, the organization is helping homes, businesses, neighborhoods and entire watersheds begin to make this powerful shift. WMG’s Restore Sabino Creek campaign is blazing a new path for one of Arizona’s most beloved natural areas, taking the first steps in changing the tragic story of our depleted desert springs, creeks and rivers to one of hope. Having recently expanded this work to the Tanque Verde region, the visionary organization is bringing its message of water independence to people throughout the region.

Join the Shift to Hydro-Regionalism

A central theme of hydro-regionalism is seeing the connection from backyards to watersheds. WMG’s Green Living Co-op helps people transform their yards with rainwater and greywater harvesting, native and edible gardens, soil building and passive solar features. At the Living Lab, WMG offers many classes and trainings throughout the year—including free tours and educational classes to help homeowners qualify for Tucson Water rebates on water-harvesting systems, and the Field Study series that teaches skills for sustainable desert living. Folks can learn about these offerings and more at

People can also support WMG’s campaign with a gift on Arizona Gives Day—a statewide day of giving—on April 5. The money raised last year on Arizona Gives Day helped WMG expand the campaign to Tanque Verde Creek. This year, all gifts will help support implementation of restoration features in Sabino and Tanque Verde Creeks, as well as increased education. Visit for a link to schedule a donation and learn more about WMG’s 50-Year Program to restore flow to desert springs, creeks and rivers.

Karilyn Roach is Community Relations Specialist at Watershed Management Group, and also coordinates the Community Water Coalition, a broad-based coalition of organizations, businesses and individuals that is working toward comprehensive, sustainable water policies in the Tucson region. Connect at 520-396-3266 or